Many people feel they know the symptoms of diabetes. But LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames points out that an estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of people who have diabetes don't suffer from any noticeable symptoms.
In addition, some of the symptoms may not be well known, and people may not recognize them. Symptoms can last for months before patients bother to seek attention. Reames says by that point, the damage can be hard to reverse.
In diabetes, blood sugar levels become high because the body either does not make insulin or cannot use it properly. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to move glucose (sugar) from the blood into body cells to be used as energy.
"In at least half of all diabetes cases, symptoms appear in patients as the levels of glucose in their blood begin to rise," the nutritionist says, adding, "The extra sugar attaches to proteins, causing damage in the process and can harm internal tissues and organs from head to toe."
Often, the most noticeable symptoms of diabetes occur as the body tries to get rid of excess blood sugar – frequent urination, thirst and dry mouth. Weight loss, lethargy and dehydration also can occur.
Vision changes may occur as high blood sugar levels affect water in the eye, actually reshaping the lens. Vision may get more blurry and, in some cases, vision may improve. People with these visual changes may think they need glasses or need to change their prescription.
Other symptoms of diabetes include tingling or numbness in feet, blackened skin around the eyes, knuckles or neck, gum disease and bad breath.
Since symptoms may not appear for many years, and because some people may not have symptoms or not recognize them, it’s important to be tested for diabetes, especially for those at high risk – the overweight, those with family histories of diabetes and those with high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Also, some ethnic groups are at higher risk of developing diabetes – native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders.
A simple blood test to test your blood sugar level will indicate if you might have a problem. Additional testing is needed to confirm if you have diabetes.
An estimated 17 million Americans have diabetes, meaning their bodies cannot adequately process blood sugar. Those who have type 1 diabetes can't produce insulin at all, while those with type 2 diabetes don't produce enough or use insulin properly. As many as a third of children born in 2000 are expected to develop diabetes over their lifetimes.
Left untreated, diabetes can cause heart disease; stroke; blindness; kidney failure; pregnancy complications, amputations of the leg, foot and toe; as well as deaths related to flu and pneumonia.
On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/
On the Internet: American Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.org
Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3929, or firstname.lastname@example.org